A flooded world. A floating circus. Two women in search of a home. North lives on a circus boat with her beloved bear, keeping a secret that could capsize her life. Callanish lives alone in her house in the middle of the ocean, tending the graves of those who die at sea. As penance for a terrible mistake, she has become a gracekeeper. A chance meeting between the two draws them magnetically to one another – and to the promise of a new life. But the waters are treacherous, and the tide is against them.
This atmospheric YA novel is a cross between dystopia and magical realism, full of ethereal imagery that gives it a magical quality. The world has flooded and only small pockets of lands are left- the population is now divided between landlockers, the wealthy who live on the land, and the damplings, who live on the water. North is a dampling who performs extravagant circus events with her bear in order to survive, while Callanish is a landlocker with a secret, living apart from her people as a gracekeeper.
Kirsty Logan’s prose is strikingly beautiful and I would read the book again just for that.
“The apple was a perfect sphere, green speckled with red, shiny as a bird’s eye. Avalon pulled a silver knife from her dress pocket and cut the apple’s softening flesh into quarters, exposing the pips tenderly. Its scent exploded in the air: sweetly souring, past its best but still with a sheen of juice.”
The narrative shifts to various different viewpoints, which was refreshing and allows for a free-flowing plot. The characterisation is vidid and colourful and brings each individual to life, oozing glamour, hatred and sex. It was this that made me so impatient to get back to the book when I wasn’t reading it.
The world-building- when it exists- is intriguing, but falls short by leaving so many unanswered questions. The origin of the practice of gracekeeping, starving birds to death above water graves to indicate the period of mourning, is never explained. As a gracekeeper, Callanish must live separate from all others, but there is never a hint of who has decided this and who governs the world she lives in. I would have liked to have known the backstory to the segregation between damplings and landlockers, and what place the religious sect had in the narrative.
“Spectacle is grounded in the illusion of control.”
Themes of the rituals of life and death, pregnancy, gay relationships, Scottish selkie mythology and Shakespearian play on gender make this novel unique. However, the ending was a little lacklustre, with a tragic event not causing nearly as much grief as it should have, which made the relationship involved less authentic. People have suggested that one of the main themes of this book is female bodily autonomy, but I found it odd how a scene in which a selkie impregnates a character in what realistically should be defined as rape didn’t seem to be a matter of concern to the victim.
Despite some of the slightly disappointing aspects, this is still a compelling, artisitic novel and one that I would recommend to lovers of The Night Circus and Church of Marvels. Next on my list is Kirsty Logan’s A Portable Shelter.